The answer is obvious

Oh what a funny word obvious is. It can mean clarity, but is often used with criticism. I certainly have associations with being on the wrong side of it. ‘Come on Urquhart, the answer’s obvious,’ echo the voices of the past teachers in my head. And Being Obvious is one of those improv terms that is not only ironically not that self explanatory but can actually sound pretty rude! So here’s my take on it.

What is Being Obvious?

According to the internet, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment or individual who first used the term, but Keith Johnstone is widely credited with popularising and emphasising the concept in his book “Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre.” The book suggests that trying to be clever or overly complex can inhibit creativity and authenticity in performance*.

Johnstone encouraged improvisers to embrace obvious choices rather than trying to invent something entirely new or unexpected. He argued that the obvious choice is often what the audience** expects or relates to most naturally.

To be completely honest, this definition of being obvious puts me in my head. I don’t want to be thinking about what my audience wants or relates to. There might be hundreds of them, and they might want or relate to different things. So for me, I think being obvious is about saying what’s obvious to you.

The First Idea is the Best Choice

There are of course varying schools of thought on this in improvisation. Personally I’m a big fan of tapping the flow in improvisation. So my advice is to always begin with the first idea that comes to you. Alot of people say they worry about not having an idea when improvising. In my experience, 99.9% of people do have a first idea available to them. They later tell me it was the judgement of that first idea that got in their way and stopped them from voicing it. Sure, you can refine and get more nuanced down the line but for now just say what’s there.

You are the expert in what you think

To me, the most beautiful thing about this concept of being obvious is that your obviousness is going to be different from everyone else’s obviousness. Get comfortable with that and everything gets a lot easier. There will be some people who were thinking the exact same thing as you (but perhaps didn’t voice it) and some who will be delighted and surprised by your obvious because they never in a million years would have thought of it. So when working on being obvious, don’t look for the ‘correct’ obvious just think about what is logical to you. As Oliver Stone said ‘Tell the Truth, they’ll never believe you’.

Liberate yourself from being any good

Notice above that when I say first idea, I don’t say first ‘good’ idea, just first. Our education system has programmed us to be critical and competitive so it can take a little undoing just to start blurting things out. One step further than following your logic and going with your first idea, is tricking your brain into opening up by going for your most boring or your worst idea. It might not be what you stick with but it’ll definitely tell you something about yourself and what you think.

If you’re thinking, should I say it? Say it

I work with a lot of organisations*** that maybe see creativity as ‘nice’ rather than the important resource that it is. Imagine the productivity that comes from every member of a team feeling like their idea deserves to see the light of day. Leaders**** can do alot to create a culture that promotes this but when you do have that moment of obvious please share it. It might be obvious to you but it might be that one magic idea that no one else but you could have thought of.

*Performance here means all contexts whether it be improvising on stage or improvising in any creative process.

**Similarly audience here could mean a traditional theatre audience or an audience of peers or customers in any creative space.

***Organisations from small improvisational theatre companies to global corporations. Team Dynamics are everywhere.

****A leader here could be Theatre Director, school teacher or CEO. Good leadership is vital.